The “Now What?” Phase

There seems to be a kind of life cycle of skeptical blogs. They start out all excited and frequent-posting, hitting all the usual Skepticism 101 topics, and trying to say something new or interesting about them. But eventually, I think every skeptical blog comes to the “Now What?” phase. You’ve hit alt-med and ghost hunting and cryptozoology and alien abductions and conspiracy theories and antivaxxers and maybe dabbled in a little religion. But once all that’s done, where do you go? There are some choices:

  • Fade Away: There’s only so many ways you can say that homeopathy is bullshit. Your posts are all there, archived for all time on the Internet, and there’s nothing more to say. You walk away, and your blog slowly gathers dust.
  • Firefighting: Keep up with the woo-news. Jump on every new article or claim that pops into your feed or Google Alerts. It might be a little repetitive, but it’ll at least be relevant.
  • Case Studies: Go after every specific story. Instead of talking about hauntings in general, look at each prominent haunting story on its own. Take every claim as new, examine it, and debunk as necessary.
  • Angling: Try to find new ways of talking about the usual skeptical topics. Maybe there’s some larger themes you can draw conclusions about, maybe there are connections to other fields. Maybe it’s just a matter of doing the usual topics as a webcomic or poetry.
  • Diversify: Change the blog focus. Maybe make it more personal, maybe talk about art or video games in addition to occasional skeptical topics.
  • Pioneer: Skepticism is a process, not a set of conclusions, so apply that process to new topics. Political claims? Social trends? Mores and traditions? They’re rife for skepticism and doubt just like any other set of claims. You might end up doing a lot of your own legwork, but you’ll have something new to say and show for it.
  • Quarterbacking: You may have noticed that there are a lot of other people who also agree that UFOs aren’t aliens and Bigfoot is bullshit. You socialize with those people, online or off, and maybe there are some things that you see in this group that you want to praise, or decry. Maybe you think they should be doing things differently to attract more members, or make things more pleasant for people who are already in the group. So you voice some opinions, suggestions, descriptions, or decrees for the community at large.

In truth, I think most skeptical blogs and podcasts do some combination of most or all of the above. The problem comes when people visit a skeptical blog and are shocked–shocked, I say!–to see discussion that isn’t strictly Skepticism 101 on a skeptical blog. “Why are you talking about X? X doesn’t have anything to do with Chupacabras!”

And it might not. But if every skeptical blog spent all its time re-hashing Skepticism 101 topics, it’d get really boring really fast. If you can’t handle skeptical pioneering or occasional quarterbacking, then maybe you should find blogs that engage in more of the firefighting and case studying and angling. But complaining that it’s not strictly skepticism? Well, that just makes you look like an ass.

9 Responses to The “Now What?” Phase

  1. Techskeptic says:

    I guess I took the first choice

  2. Don says:

    I tried angling for a bit a couple of years ago. Then I officially diversified. I'm thinking that "Fade Away" is in the cards before too much longer. I guess I just have nothing I care to say anymore.

  3. Ri-mix says:

    I just finished reading your comments on Greta's blog. Your exchange with Husqvarna left me in stitches. I've been battling with some of the same bullshit over at Canadian Atheist. Seriously, what is wrong with people?Anyway just wanted to tell you that you win my Favourite Person of the Day Award.

  4. Jimmy Blue says:

    I've been thinking about the same issue recently, since I haven't made a new blog post for almost a year now, and I am probably going to diversify – although I am not sure that is entirely the right way of putting it.People seem to think that blogs about skepticism and critical thinking should only be about certain topics and get mightily bent out of shape if you dare to suggest critical thinking applies to topics other than woo. A great many self claimed skeptics can't wait to tell you not to apply your critical thinking anywhere other than where they think you should.So this year I hope to be making posts on the usual, but I am going to make a lot more political posts too, since it is fairly obvious the American political process needs a lot more critical thinking thrown in to it.

  5. Skeptico says:

    This is the post I would have written, if I could have worked up the enthusiasm. ;-)I’ve been trending towards “fade away.” When I started my blog in Feb 2005, I had many topics I really had to write about, really needed to get off my chest. Now I’ve pretty much written about everything I wanted to cover, plus a whole lot more (what the bleep, the secret, RFK and autism) that hadn’t even existed when I started. I realized it was starting to feel like a job around October 2010 when I began to plan another detailed post on astrology (Ertel’s rehashing of the Carlson study). And I already have a job. In the end I couldn’t be bothered to do all the work for, in reality, only a few diehards who would want to read yet another analysis of increasingly arcane statistical details. So I wrote nothing for over a year.These days I find I’m more interested in atheism, and the debates around accommodationism (I’m against it), and have written a couple of things around that recently. I guess you could classify that as “diversify” to some extent. I’m not sure how much posting I’m actually going to do in the future, though. As you say, it’s all there, archived for all time on the Internet. I hope you keep writing though, Tom. You’re one of the clearest, most logical and well expressed writers out there.

  6. Doubting Tom says:

    Jimmy: I've seen that precise same conversation, although I suspect Don and I usually experience it with people who think skepticism can't be applied to god-claims. As far as I'm concerned, skepticism is a method, and there's not a lot that it can't potentially apply to. There are a lot of skeptics–mostly the professional sort–who want to keep skepticism confined to this toothless ghetto of "topics that were barely controversial in the '70s," and they're awful. Skeptico: Thanks. There's no chance that I'll stop blogging (in fact, I'm allegedly doing more of it than ever, just not at the usual places). I like writing too much. But having both free time and inspiration is a rarer occurrence than it used to be, though future years may change that a bit. I'm still around; in fact, my recent interest in feminist topics and sexism in the skeptical community has me commenting at some newer places and following more blogs than I used to. Heck, this post here started as a comment that was too off-topic and too long just to post at Skepchick.

  7. Jeff says:

    Bingo. (Which, toward the end of our run on 2%, became a kind of pseudo-Latinate word for "What Doubting Tom said.")I'm sure 2% Tom won't mind my pointing out that our own "fade away" was, while necessitated in some ways by life in general (we've got other things to do), chosen due to the fact that there was nothing left to say.The few heartfelt (and appreciated) suggestions that we continue, or direct questions about our views on a particular topic (through e-mail or tacked onto old posts), elicited the same reponse every time, if only privately and to each other: "If anyone wants to know what we have to say on topic X, then all they have to do is read the rest of our site…it should be relatively obvious with a little critical thought."I still read the Usual Suspects as often as I can (…he said, responding to a post three weeks after the fact), and I get outraged by the Usual Crap, but aside from sticking to the "No tool gets the last word on our own site" maxim, we've more or less agreed that 2% is essentially an archive now. Anybody we dig from the old days would have no trouble surmising our opinions an any current events, and could probably achieve a considerably lower profanity ratio in the process.

  8. Bronze Dog says:

    I’ve done plenty of fade away, but I’m managing something of a restart so far with doing some Skepticism 101 with the new Doggerel series. It’s a new experience since I’m working to control my tone a bit more, and including advice for the people who get directed there for using doggerel. But I’ll definitely look back here for ideas on what to do if my enthusiasm fades, again.

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